China’s lawmakers pass the amended Civil Procedure Law (CPL) on 24 December, which came into effect on 1 January 2022 and added seven new provisions, revising 26.
The amended CPL provides that civil proceedings may be conducted online through an information network platform if all the parties agree. While online proceedings had already been widely adopted in the courts, the amendment marked the first time the validity of the approach was officially recognised by law.
With the addressee’s consent, the amended CPL allows courts to deliver judicial documents electronically. Applicable documents have been expanded to include judgments, rulings and mediation records. Electronic service further improves litigation efficiency by reducing the “in-transit time” of judicial documents.
The amended CPL shortened the term for service of process by a public announcement from 60 days to 30 days, designed to prevent any intentional evading of service to delay the litigation process, while protecting the litigious rights of parties involved.
Under the earlier CPL, the only form of mediation agreement eligible for judicial confirmation was the mediation agreement reached at the people’s mediation committee. The amended CPL, on the other hand, broadened the scope of judicial confirmation to “mediation agreements reached at any lawfully established mediation organisation”.
Under the amended CPL, the competent court to review the request for judicial confirmation shall be: the court that invites the mediation organisation to mediate the case; or the court at the appropriate level at the parties’ domicile, the location of the subject matter, or the location of the mediation organisation, if the mediation organisation mediates the case on its own accord.
The amended CPL further clarifies the applicability of the small claim procedure as “civil cases with clear facts and definite rights and obligations involving disputes over small amounts of monetary payment”. The applicable amount increased from “less than 30% of the previous year’s average yearly salary of the employed population in the province, autonomous region or municipality” to “less than 50%” of the same. Moreover, in cases where the amount is “more than 50% of but less than twice the previous year’s average yearly salary of the employed population in the province, autonomous region or municipality”, the parties may agree to apply the small claim procedure under the amended CPL.
The amended CPL listed six scenarios in which the small claim procedure does not apply: disputes over personal relations or recognition of property rights; foreign-related civil disputes; disputes requiring assessment or authentication or involving objections to the results of pre-litigation assessment or authentication; disputes where the whereabouts of either party is unknown; disputes where a party files a counterclaim; and disputes otherwise not suitable to be tried under the small claim procedure.
The amended CPL expressly provides that the small claim procedure will be decided in the first instance, without further review, and the judge may open one hearing session and render a judgment at the hearing, or in any event decide on the case within two months. Other additions include provisions on switching from small claim to other procedures, namely: the court may, at its own discretion, switch to other procedures if the small claim procedure is not the proper one; and the parties may object to the applicability of the small claim procedure.
Under the amended CPL, the applicability of the sole-judge panel was conditionally broadened to include both ordinary and second-instance procedures. Civil cases of the first instance with clear basic facts and definite rights and obligations may be tried by a sole judge at a primary people’s court in the course of an ordinary procedure; and civil cases of the second instance where the concluded first-instance trial adopted the simplified procedure or an appeal was filed may be tried by a sole judge at an intermediate people’s court, if the relevant facts are clear, the rights and obligations are well-defined, and both parties so agree.
The amended CPL also listed the types of cases where a sole-judge panel does not apply, namely: cases concerning national or public interests; ones involving class action with a potential impact on social stability; those with extensive public attention and social ramifications; novel or exceptionally complex cases; cases that, based on the law, should be tried by a collegial panel; and cases otherwise not suitable to be tried by a sole judge.
In addition, the amended CPL provided for a sole-judge court to switch to a collegial court, either voluntarily in the course of a trial, or if the litigant questions the applicability of a sole-judge court.
Time limitation of enforcement
In terms of the time limit for applying for the enforcement of performance by instalment stipulated under a legal instrument, the pre-amendment CPL provided that the limitation clock starts ticking on “the last day of each specified time limit of performance”, while the amended CPL changed it to “the expiry date of the latest time limit of performance”. This is consistent with the Civil Code, under which the limitation of action starts with the due date of the last instalment of performance.
Zhang Guanglei is a partner and Zhang Jinhui is an associate at Jingtian & Gongcheng.
Zhang Guanglei is also an arbitrator of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre and Shanghai International Arbitration Centre
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